fo the last third of Vladimir Putin’s reign over Russia, there is no more iconic structure than the bridge that connects mainland Russia to Crimea across the Kerch Strait. It stands for the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula, presented as a “homecoming”, and its connection to Russia despite all difficulties. In May 2018, four years and two months after the annexation, Putin personally drove an orange construction vehicle across the bridge at the head of a column of dozens of trucks.
Putin’s childhood friend Arkadij Rotenberg had built it in just over two years for allegedly more than three billion euros in state money. At the time, Russia’s state television rejoiced that the structure on 595 pillars, to which 6500 piles were driven into the seabed for stabilization, would withstand any challenge. With Putin, the 19-kilometer road link, Europe’s longest bridge, was initially opened for cars. A few months later it opened for trucks, in 2019 the railway line followed, first for passenger trains and the following year for freight trains.
Logistically, the Crimean Bridge is not only important for supplying the peninsula with food and tourism, but also for that of the Russian military in Crimea and now on the southern Ukrainian mainland. The Russian side has repeatedly emphasized how well the bridge is protected, including by anti-aircraft systems. Such reassurances were given, for example, after the explosions at military installations in Crimea last August, which already showed the vulnerability of the peninsula.
After the blast on the bridge early Saturday morning, footage was circulated showing the inspection of the truck, which is said to have blown up shortly afterwards, causing damage to the road and rail link where a train carrying fuel tanks caught fire. Apparently nothing was found during the examination.
The facts of the case were not initially mentioned
In Russian Telegram channels, there was initially talk of the truck being fully loaded with pallet film; another version saw fertilizers on board. The driver, it was said, behaved calmly during the test; the inspectors on duty were arrested after the explosion and are being questioned, they may have been careless or bribed. Russia’s investigative committee said three people were killed in the blast – the driver of the truck and two occupants of a car driving next to him – and opened an investigation “in connection with what happened on the Crimean bridge”.
Contrary to the usual practice of the authority, the facts of the case were initially not mentioned. That it was a matter of a “terrorist attack” or “sabotage” by Ukraine initially remained an accusation raised by only a few propagandists who, like state television man Vladimir Solovyov, demanded a “devastating answer”. This shows how uncomfortable the new incident in connection with the alleged “fortress” Crimea is for Russia’s leadership.